Moneyball

Working against the status quo is never easy and always risky.  Taking a path that flies in the face of conventional wisdom can be dangerous to both your professional reputation as well as your personal safety.  Many of Christopher Columbus’ men believed they would fall off the edge of the world as he prepared for his voyage to what would be considered the New World.  The astronomer Galileo was put on trial by the Church for stating in a book the Earth was not the center of the solar system.  All great innovators, from the dawn of man to the present, have been scoffed at and ridiculed for questioning why things are the way they are and why they can’t be different.  In this week’s movie, “Moneyball,” one man tries a different approach to a child’s game, making all the grown-ups in the room very unhappy.

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) was a highly recruited baseball player out of high school who couldn’t make it in the major leagues.  Since he couldn’t play, Beane became a part of baseball management and eventually made it to the job of general manager of the Oakland Athletics.  The A’s are a small market team that can’t afford to pay its players the kind of money they can get in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston, so any good player they develop gets lured away by a big paycheck from one of these other teams.  During a meeting with the Cleveland Indians management about possible player trades and acquisitions, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who uses mathematics to help pick the best players.  Beane hires Brand away from the Indians and makes him the assistant G.M. of the A’s.  Brand’s suggestions about which players to acquire flies in the face of conventional baseball wisdom as many of them are either near the end of their careers, like David Justice (Stephen Bishop), or have injuries that keep them from effectively playing their positions, like Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt).  What these players do share is an ability to get on base, as determined by Brand’s mathematical formula.  The A’s manager Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) bristles at the idea of trying to field a team built by equation and resists Beane’s efforts to tell him who to play and where.  The start of the season with this team cobbled together from everyone’s leftovers begins disastrously; but Beane and Brand believe it will work and with some aggressive trades that force Howe to play Billy’s way, the wins begin to come.

While “Moneyball” features a large ensemble cast, it lives and dies with the performance of Brad Pitt.  For those of you wondering, the movie not only lives, it thrives.  Pitt is terrific as Billy Beane, all the worry and stress showing on his weathered face.  No furniture is safe should Beane get some bad news or if the pressure of trying to piece together a winning team becomes too much to bear.   Pitt lives the role in a way many actors wish they could.  For me, the handsome actor who is perhaps better known for the tabloid headlines he and his partner, Angelina Jolie, generate on a weekly basis, disappeared and he became this troubled and tested general manager who can’t seem to catch a break.  It’s a performance that could garner Pitt another Oscar nomination.

Jonah Hill, in all his pudgy glory, is also terrific as Peter Brand, the recent college graduate computer nerd who may know more than the grizzled old baseball scouts and they hate his guts because of it.  Hill plays the role very understated, his character trying to stay behind the scenes even as Beane forces him to the forefront.  Brand may never have played the game but he obviously loves it; and, as he becomes more involved in the day to day decisions of who to trade for and who to send to the minors, he and Beane become close friends despite Beane’s gruff and somewhat unpredictable behavior.

Everyone in the cast is excellent; however, I do have one minor gripe about the film.  The scenes with Beane and his daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) feel like they were lifted from another movie.  While I understand the desire to make Beane a more rounded character, giving him an emotional foundation with his daughter that isn’t on display with his team, these scenes feel forced and unnecessary.  Kerris Dorsey is very good in her role and does give Beane a level of humanity that isn’t always on display in the clubhouse.  Still, the film’s momentum comes to a crashing halt during these father/daughter scenes.

“Moneyball” is rated PG-13 for some strong language.  The “F-bomb” is dropped a couple of times.  Otherwise, foul language is rather sparse.

“Moneyball” is based on a book of the same name telling the true story of Billy Beane and his efforts to produce a winning team with little money and less support from his scouts and on-field manager.  It also is a lesson of perseverance, faith and second chances.   Brad Pitt knocks this role out of the park.

“Moneyball” gets five guitars out of five.  It’s batting a thousand.

Three new movies are looking for your entertainment dollar this week.  Vote for the next film I review.

50/50—Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star as best friends whose lives are changed when one of them is diagnosed with cancer.

Dream House—A family moves into a new house, only to learn that the previous residents were brutally murdered, with the killer still at large.

What’s Your Number—Anna Faris embarks on a quest to find the best "ex" of her life, by any means necessary, before she misses her chance at true love.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Have a question or comment?  Send them to stanthemovieman@att.net.  You can also follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.